South Carolina did what it was expected to do in Saturday’s 38-20 win over struggling Arkansas. And with one real game left in the season (Clemson), the Gamecocks are 7-2 with their only losses coming on the road to top 10 teams, in back-to-back weeks.
USC coach Steve Spurrier has to be pleased about that, as his team prepares for Wofford this week on Senior Day, before the Thanksgiving weekend trip to Clemson. His offense hung 383 yards on Arkansas, after gaining 510 the previous week against Tennessee. But he is well aware that Arkansas and Tennessee rank No. 12 and 14 in the Southeastern Conference in total defense.
“They’re not quite the team they’ve been in the past,” Spurrier said of Arkansas, which had defeated USC in three straight meetings before Saturday. “They’ve obviously got some issues, but it’s still good to beat them. We didn’t play all that super. Arkansas, as we know, has got some issues. They don’t know who their coach is going to be next year. That’s hard. That’s hard for the players. It’s hard for the coaching staff there to try to keep it going. I feel for those guys.”
USC got an interception return for a touchdown by D.J. Swearinger, so its offense was responsible for 31 of the 38 points.
“We should score more than 20,” Spurrier said. “Arkansas’ defense is not one of the best in the conference. In fact, they’re near the bottom. So we should score 35, 40 points.”
Reflecting on tight end Jerell Adams’ 29-yard touchdown pass from Connor Shaw in the first quarter, Spurrier said, “I could have caught that one that Jerell caught. They sort of played two-deep and screwed up their coverage pretty well. We kept saying, ‘Throw it, Connor, throw it.’ Sometimes, Connor waits after they’re open. He waits a little bit, then throws it.”
The two points in that statement are that Arkansas’ pass defense stinks and that Spurrier isn’t content with the state of his offense, which gained 104 rushing yards (2.5 per carry) in its first game without injured tailback Marcus Lattimore.
“We didn’t run the ball very well,” Spurrier said. “We had a few good ones here and there. Did we get 100 yards rushing?”
Yes, he was told.
“So they got their free hamburger or what is it?” he joked, in reference to a promotional give-a-way for fans. “We’re worried about that.”
Now comes a chance to go 7-0 at home for the fifth time in school history, along with 1979, 1980, 1984 and 1987.
“There’s still some opportunities out there for us,” said Spurrier, who will set USC’s career coaching wins record if the Gamecocks beat Wofford and Clemson.
He isn’t concerned about his team overlooking Wofford.
“I don’t think so, with everything that’s on the line,” he said.
USC should be able to beat Wofford even if its offense isn’t humming. And even though Shaw completed 14 of 22 passes against Arkansas for 272 yards, Spurrier didn’t think he had a perfect performance, but was good enough.
“We’re not real sharp,” Spurrier said. “We hit these balls in practice, but we’re not hitting them when it counts here in the ballpark. But we hit enough. Connor played well. They covered actually pretty good at times, I guess. It was a good win for us. We just didn’t play super. As a coach, you’d like your guys to really play well. We played good enough to beat them, but we didn’t really play well.”
Some other notes from the Arkansas game and looking ahead to Wofford …
** The coaches have flip-flopped wide receivers Ace Sanders and Bruce Ellington, moving Sanders to the inside spot previous occupied by Ellington because they wanted to get Sanders more opportunities to catch the ball.
Sanders has 25 catches this year, Ellington 28, including 11 in the past two games and five on Saturday. Sanders had five against Tennessee, tying his season high, but just one against Arkansas.
“We sort of swapped (Ellington) and Ace, thinking we weren’t getting hardly any balls to Ace, and now all of a sudden they’re going to Bruce most of the time,” Spurrier said. “I don’t know why exactly that’s all happening. We try to put our guys in position for the route they run the best. I guess it’s just worked out that way the last couple of games.”
** Kenny Miles had 14 carries for 37 yards against Arkansas – four more carries than he had in any previous game this season – as he takes over for Lattimore.
“I don’t think I did that great,” Miles said. “There were a few plays that I felt like I could have broken, but I got tripped. I feel like I could have done a lot better.”
** On the play before his pick six, Swearinger was flagged for a helmet-to-helmet hit. Earlier this season, he was suspended a game by the SEC for a helmet-to-helmet hit, but he thinks the replay will show that he led with his shoulder on this hit.
“I actually tried to turn and lead with my shoulder, but in the speed of the game, it’s hard for the refs to see that,” he said. “I think they’ll see that I led with my shoulder. I know I tried to lead with my shoulder. I don’t think I should get suspended because I led with my shoulder.”
Said defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward: “I told him the thing that he’s probably going to have to do is start tackling people low. I think that’s what the game has come to. Now you’re going to see more people getting knee injuries. But that’s where the game is.”
Hitting lower won’t be tough for him, Swearinger said.
“Well, last week (against Tennessee), I had a chance to hit a guy across the middle and I went low, so I don’t think it’s a big adjustment,” he said. “It’s just that I’ve got to put it in my head and go low.”
But there is no question about the impact of Swearinger’s pick six.
“They stopped playing after that, pretty much,” defensive end Jadeveon Clowney said of Arkansas.
** Ward was happy with how his back end switches went against Arkansas. DeVonte Holloman moved from spur outside linebacker to strong safety, his old position, and Swearinger went from free safety to cornerback and nickel back.
“I think they did well,” Ward said. “Can they be better? Sure they can. But for what we were going to do in this ball game and having a limited number of corners being available, moving DeVonte to boundary safety was a key in this ball game because it allowed us to move D.J. nickel and we felt good about it and it actually paid off for us in the long run. DeVonte will go back to spur definitely for this next ball game because (Wofford) will be a running team. And we’ll figure out what we’re going to do for the last opponent (Clemson) when we get there.”
** As Ward alluded to, Wofford uses a run-focused option offense.
“I hate that, because all they do is come off the ball and cut (block) me,” Clowney said.
At least he won’t have to worry about being held on pass rush as opponents try to limit his effectiveness.
“I get frustrated all the time, but I know that’s a call they’re not even going to call anymore in this league,” he said. “They don’t even call holding. It’s got to be real clear, tackle you down to the ground for an official to call a hold. I get frustrated, but I try to keep my cool out there on the field.”